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Why I Celebrate Black History Month

Margaret and I went to our grandson’s birthday party last year (he turned the big 1 year old!). After the excitement of cake and opening gifts he went down for a nap and left his father, big sister, my brother-in-law, and his wife to watch television with Margaret and me. I’m not much of a TV kind of guy so

I wasn’t particularly paying attention to much attention to the television – that is, until a commercial came on for Black History Month. That’s when I heard my brother-in-law ask out loud, “Why don’t they have a White History Month?”

My stepson chimed in, “Yep, my daughter and I have had several discussions about that. They don’t honor us with a month. What’s up with that?”

“Why do they have a special month for Black people?” my granddaughter asked. About the same time, I heard my sister-in-law mutter something about tearing down all our Confederate monuments. I was steaming mad and extremely hurt.

I love and appreciate my in-laws (most of them anyway, but I digress…). Where our children are concerned, both Margaret and I decided when we married that we didn’t have “step” kids, just “our” kids. Honestly, I wasn’t surprised by my brother-laws response nor by his wife’s opinion. But… when it comes to the kids that’s a different story. I can accept political differences – they’re extremely conservative and I’m not – but to remain silent in the face of blatant racism is, as Dr. King aptly said, is complicity and acceptance. I cannot be quiet.

I stepped outside, taking a moment to breathe, and be as loving as possible with my response. They were, after all, family. I wanted them to hear why it is important to have a month dedicated to Black History and to see people of color through a lens unclouded by white supremacy and stereotypes. By the time I had calmed down enough to speak with some degree of respect, my in-laws were leaving. My stepson came out on the porch to see them off and remained there with Margaret and me. I spoke up.

“You know the reason we have Black History Month and not a White History Month is because every day is white history day. White people wrote the history. They were able to include or omit anything they wanted to. They only tell of the history they want to tell, and everything is subject to a White view of the world.”

“But…” he started.

I cut him off. “Let me finish. Take Juneteenth for instance. I never learned about it in school. It wasn’t until I was an adult and heard somebody say ‘there was going to be trouble in Como (an old African-American neighborhood here in Fort Worth) since it’s Juneteenth. They trash it every year.’ All I could say is what’s Juneteenth?” I’d never heard of it.”

“Pick your word – the master, the victor, the oppressor – writes the history. It’s no wonder everything else gets left out. That’s really sad. The more I learn of Black history, the more I feel robbed in my youth of a vibrant story, particularly right here in Texas.”

“Over the years, and particularly the last three and a half years with Ms. Opal, I’ve learned how much Black men and women contributed to the community and the world I live in. We need to take more than just a month to recognize those things”. I won’t bore you with the details of the rest of our conversation and honestly, I don’t know if it made any difference with him, but I hope it did – especially because it influences my granddaughter’s attitudes and behavior in matters of race.

One of my favorite quotes is from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality.”

The important thing is for those of us who want to see a more just, equitable world is to speak up. Some folks are never openminded and a conversation may never be possible, but you never know unless you speak up. Maybe, just maybe a seed will be planted; a way to see old thinking as it is – white supremacy. If that brings about an open mind and more discussion (not argument) on issues of racial justice, then I’m thrilled to have been the “Sower of seed…”. As Ms. Opal always reminds me, “If a person can be taught to love, then they can be taught to hate”.

Look for and celebrate the contributions of African-Americans in your own community and share those with others. For instance, here in Fort Worth there are many organizations, libraries, and monuments that are frequently overlooked or unknown by the White populace. Try taking a walk around Evans Plaza, where each block of pavement has a story of Black history in Texas and in Fort Worth. There’s the Lenora Rolla Heritage Center Museum in the historic Boone House (1020 East Humboldt Street – open by appointment) run by the Tarrant County Black Historical and Genealogical Society. The Transform 1012 organization is working to transform what is thought to be the last standing building actually built by and for the KKK – later known as the Ellis Pecan building on North Main – into a multicultural meeting place and performance venue. There is also the Fort Worth Lynching Tour – a bicycle tour beginning in the Stockyards dedicated to telling the story of Fred Rouse, lynched by a Fort Worth mob in 1921.

There are many other organizations, sites, and museums – either existing or planned that tell the story of Black History in Fort Worth. There will soon be a new Juneteenth Museum located on the site of the old one at Evans and Rosedale. Fort Worth is also in the location and planning stages of building its own African-American History museum.

Each year, Unity Unlimited, Inc. hosts Fort Worth’s Juneteenth Celebration with a month of events and we’d love to see you there. We celebrated the signing last year with a huge festival and fireworks to mark the celebration of everyone’s freedom. As Ms. Opal says, “No one is free until everyone is free”.

Unity Unlimited, Inc, is celebrating Black History Month by hosting the Dallas Racial Healing & Transformation’s kick off in Fort Worth on February 23rd, from 6:00PM to 8:00PM at Tarrant County College South Campus, “A New Community Vision for Fort Worth”. There will be a conversation with Ms. Opal Lee and a wonderful program for all Fort Worthians to build a better community.

These are just a few of the reasons I celebrate Black History Month. If you’re in Fort Worth, please come celebrate with us’ but please celebrate wherever you are. It is something to celebrate!

http://www.unityunlimited.org

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Joel Says…

It’s an exceptionally brilliant sunny morning here in Cowtown. The sun reflecting off the snow-covered lawns makes everything brighter. It won’t stick around too long as the forecast calls for a warming trend this coming week. The long-awaited precipitation is welcome news to Opal’s Farm and the rest of North Central Texas. We’re moving deeper into a drought phase, so even snow and ice are welcome (if the power stays on anyway…)

Most folks here were not looking forward to this recent cold snap. The power outages, broken pipes, water shortages, and deaths from last year’s major freeze were still too fresh. Everyone was afraid of a repeat this year. The rest of the country must’ve been watching as well. Momma called from Kentucky to make sure we were okay – North Texas made the national news. I’m somewhat embarrassed that everyone doubts Texans can survive a couple of inches of snow and freezing temperatures, but after last year I understand.

The ice and snow are on there way out and it’ll be seventy degrees by next weekend. Our family stayed warm with no power outages, broken pipes, or water shutoffs. The winter crops survived the cold and life goes on here in Cowtown. If truth be told, a couple of days of Arctic blast just aren’t that big of a deal, but I’m grateful to be inside this morning and to have time to read and write…

I reread the Book of Joel for this morning’s meditation. When I was a kid, I very proudly told everyone that our family was in the Bible. I made up a lot of stories about my heritage and who I was so I could feel some value to my schoolmates. I may not have known much about my birth family when I was a kid, so I embellished the lineage of my adopted one. That’s another story for another day…

Back to the Book of Joel…

Joel is probably one of the truly “minor” minor prophets. He doesn’t talk about exciting things like invading foreign powers or wars, you know, the big stuff. Instead, he writes about an invasion of locusts that have left the country destitute and hungry. His story would likely be buried a few pages deep in today’s newspapers. Bugs and hungry people don’t sell advertising very well, particularly when they’re somewhere “over there”. Honestly, I never paid him much mind even if we did share a name.

(Aside – As an adult I now know I’m completely unrelated to him. His father’s name was Pethuel. There is no one in my family tree by that name…)

Locust swarms aren’t a large concern here in Texas like they are in the Middle East and Africa. We had a serious bout with grasshoppers and couple of year ago – that was bad enough – but they didn’t put a huge dent in our harvests at Opal’s Farm. It was annoying to walk the rows and be hit by large, jumping grasshoppers or throw peas away because they’d been chewed on: I can’t imagine what it must be like to have swarms so big they block out the sun, hinder movement, and eat everything in sight like they do in other parts of the world.

Joel’s words echo today. Substitute climate change or social justice for the plague of locust and not much has changed in 2500 years. I watch the news – wildfires that grow bigger each year, hungry kids, systemic racism, and raging pandemics. I can easily echo Joel’s initial despair.

“God! I pray and cry out to you! The fields are burning up. The country is a dust bowl, forest and prairie fires rage unchecked. Wild animals dying of thirst, looking to you for a drink. Springs and streams are dried up. The whole country is burning up. Joel 1.19-20

“Shake the country up… A black day! A doomsday! Clouds with no silver lining!” Joel 2.1-2

It’s a bleak picture, but…

“But there’s also this, it’s not too late – God’s personal message! – ‘Come back to me and really mean it! Come fasting and weeping, sorry for your sins!’ Change your life, not just your clothes…

Fear not Earth! Be glad and celebrate! God has done great things. He’s giving you a teacher to train you how to live right” Joel 2.12-13, 21-23

“I will pour out my Spirit on every kind of people… Whoever calls, Help, God! Gets help. Joel 2. 28,31 (The Message)

Joel offers choices and hope for what appears to be a bleak future. That’s what I hope to do today. Take actions that offer hope – whether it be the regenerative farming we practice at Opal’s Farm or the unity we try to build in the fight against racism and hate.

I know I’m not alone either and that’s gives me hope.

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The Headline I Wish It Wasn’t…

The last thing I wanted to see tonight was the news of another hero of the faith passing on. I was flying through personal email when a headline caught my eye just as I clicked “delete”. I hurriedly went to the deleted folder only to discover that Archbishop Desmond Tutu passed away today at ninety years old.

I first came to learn of Archbishop Tutu through his work to end apartheid in South Africa. He received the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in 1984. When apartheid finally ended in South Africa, Archbishop Tutu went on to help start the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to bring healing to the country. His was a heart for restorative justice for the perpetrators and the victims of apartheid’s senseless violence.

He spoke to injustice anywhere regardless of color or status. In 2004, he accused post-apartheid President Mbeki of catering to the South African elites and forgetting the people he was elected to serve. He wasn’t afraid to call anyone out.

He reminded us that silence in the face of injustice was not an option. During my college years he said something that has stayed with me all these years – “If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse and you say that you are neutral, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality”. Silence may appear neutral, l but it’s really consent to the oppressor.

I could go on for pages about Archbishop Tutu’s work. He was indeed a true hero of the faith. May we follow his example. The world is a little quieter without his voice.

“Easter says to us that despite everything to the contrary, his will for us will prevail, love will prevail over hate, justice over injustice and oppression, peace over exploitation and bitterness.”

– Desmond Tutu
courtesy of CNN
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Change is Possible

I’m home this morning. I went for my check up yesterday. While everything went well – I’m blessed with good health – I received my third COVID vaccine, my shingles vaccine, and my flu shot. I made it through the first two COVID vaccine, but that’s not the case with this one       I’m feeling it a bit this morning so here I sit. Much has run through my mind the last few days, so I’ll take a moment to share some things with you.

I haven’t been able to do that very often – Opal’s Farm has had a busy Fall. Add to that my fantastic Thanksgiving week with my newfound family in Kentucky and I’m swamped with work. Writing, whether it’s read or not, is one of the greatest joys in my life. Every now and then God says slow down, rest, and write. Enjoy the morning. Today I may be feverish with the chills but I feel intense gratitude for my life, my family, and my friends.

I celebrated sixteen years clean on December 1st – my rebirthday. I had a friend who always said we were such blessed people to live two lives in one lifetime. Looking back, I can appreciate that statement more than ever.

My story isn’t that much different from any other recovering person. I spent a long time believing the lie that I could successfully drink and drug while living a life for everyone else. I fell deeper into the hole I was digging until there was no way to climb out. I’ve heard it said by those in recovery that God provides the ladder. Quite frankly, if He did I didn’t even have the strength to climb it. As I look back today, I can see that a loving God reached down and lifted me to freedom. The life I have today is simply grace and mercy from a God that loves His kids fiercely.

This time of year is always a time of reflection for me – probably even more so this year. I got a call earlier in the Fall from the folks organizing the Annual Erma C Johnson Hadley Awards Dinner. Ms. Hadley was the first women and first African American to serve as Chancellor of Tarrant County College and brought the college to one of the premier county colleges in the nation. She was a trailblazer and fine educator. The dinner is held annually in her honor since she passed away.

I thought they were calling for volunteers – I had worked one pre-COVID – but Dr. Jackson informed me that I was receiving the Community Leader award and she needed a short bio and headshot for the program. I was overwhelmed. How could this happen to me. I called my dear friend Edgar and all I could ask was why. Do they have any idea who they’re talking to? Don’t they know I’m simply a farmer?

Edgar reminded me that I need to share that. I’m nothing special. I grow food for people and help marginalized neighborhoods. I try to honor my calling in very simple ways. Who I was before December 1st, 2005 is not who I am today. My relationship with God has brought about a radical transformation. His will was my own true will for myself all along. He lovingly and patiently waited until I was ready to surrender to Him.

I only bring this up as a reminder to myself and others that one’s past doesn’t dictate one’s future. My addiction defined who I was some sixteen years ago. God defines who I am today. I simply had to let it. From an ex-felon and drug addict to a community leadership. Hmm. Change is possible…

“That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good” Paul’s letter to the Romans 8.28